The Cherry Orchard: Act III
Act III is set inside the estate, during a party in August on the day of the auction of the cherry orchard. Music is heard. Pishtchik, Charlotte, Trophimof, Madame Ranevsky, Anya, Barbara, and Dunyasha enter in the background, with assorted guests, and dance the grand-rond. Firs serves drinks. Pishtchik and Trophimof come into a sitting area and Pishtchik complains about his money troubles dozes from time to time. Barbara comes into the sitting room and Trophimof teases her, calling her Madame Lopakhin. She is angry, both at the joke, and at the expense the party represents. She leaves, and Trophimof comments to Pishtchik that Pishtchik could have done great things in his life with all the energy he has devoted to scrounging for money to pay his loans. Pishtchik agrees, and falls into a momentary panic, thinking he has lost his purse, which he quickly recovers.
Madame Ranevsky and Charlotte enter. Madame Ranevsky wonders where Gayef is, and why she had the dance. Charlotte performs card tricks for the group; they all applaud, and Pishtchik announces that he loves her. Her final magic trick involves making Anya appear from behind a shawl; she kisses her mother and quickly scurries away. She then performs the same trick with Barbara, and exits herself, with Pishtchik following.
Madame Ranevsky cannot distract herself from the outcome of the auction. Barbara insists that their wealthy aunt will have bought the cherry orchard for Anya's sake, but Madame Ranevsky knows that the aunt does not trust her enough to spend so much money on her.
Trophimof breaks in to tease Barbara, calling her Madame Lopakhin again. Barbara is upset; it's not that she doesn't want to marry Lopakhin, but he has never proposed. Despite all the discussion of how they should get married, he always wiggles out of his opportunities. Barbara thinks his hesitance is because he is too occupied with money; she herself announces that she would join a nunnery in an instant, if only she had money to join. Trophimof mocks her, and she starts crying again.
Yasha enters, laughing, to announce that Ephikhodof has broken a billiard cue, and Barbara rushes off to reprimand him. Madame Ranevsky seizes the opportunity to criticize Trophimof for teasing Barbara. He explains that he does it because she always follows he and Anya around, trying to prevent a romance. He insists her efforts are useless, as he and Anya are "above love;" Madame Ranevsky comments grimly that she must therefore be beneath it.
She begins to panic about the outcome of the auction; Trophimof points out that now it is far too late to panic, as she in essence lost the cherry orchard long before through her inaction. She announces that the cherry orchard is a symbol of her family and of her self; when they sell it, they sell her as well. She holds a telegram from her abusive lover during her tirade, and she begins to cry. Madame Ranevsky confesses to Trophimof that her lover has asked her back, and that she will go. Trophimof is devastated by her choice; he too begins crying and pleads with her. Madame Ranevsky becomes defensive and then insulting, calling Trophimof a freak for not considering love, saying he is too cold to be able to understand her.
Trophimof runs out furious, and Madame Ranevsky instantly begs him to return. A crash is heard, and Anya enters, laughing that Trophimof has fallen down the stairs. The music starts again. Trophimof and Barbara enter, and Madame Ranevsky casually apologizes. They dance; Yasha and Firs enter, Firs complaining about his health. Yasha is irritated by the conversation, and Firs become offended.
Anya announces that she has heard that the cherry orchard has been sold, although no one knows to whom. Madame Ranevsky asks Firs where he will go if the property is sold, implying that she will not bring him with her; he announces he will go anywhere she tells him to. She notes that he looks ill, and Yasha interrupts to ask Madame Ranevsky to take Yasha back to Paris with her when she returns. Pishtchik enters, asks Madame Ranevsky to dance, and then begs her for another for another loan. She does not respond to either Pishtchik or Yasha, but her silence is as good as a yes.
Dunyasha enters, tittering about a compliment she received while dancing; both Yasha and Firs make irritated comments. Ephikhodof has followed Dunyasha out, and he maintains his good cheer despite her attempts to shoo him away. Barbara hurries in to scold Dunyasha and Ephikhodof for acting like guests. Ephikhodof sticks up for himself, but Barbara manages to remove him after a brief moment of comedy.
Lopakhin enters just as Ephikhodof leaves, coming face-to-face with a furious Barbara. Everyone rushes in to hear what happened at the sale. Before Lopakhin can answer, Gayef follows him in, wiping tears away. Lopakhin responds that the cherry orchard has, in fact, been sold. Madame Ranevsky begs for more information, but Gayef exits, taking Firs with him. Finally, Lopakhin answers the question; he has bought the cherry orchard. Madame Ranevsky falls into a chair, and Barbara throws her keys to the ground, and exits. Lopakhin begins his speech slowly, about how a millionaire immediately outbid Gayef's small sum, and then grows more and more excited as he describes his own triumph. By the end of his speech, he cannot hide his delight, and he commands the musicians to play. Anya leads her crying mother off the stage, promising her a new orchard, which symbolizes a new life.
Act III is full of juxtapositions. In this act, not only do characters' class and social differences come out, but the way in which they interact in various moments emphasizes both the extreme differences between their personalities, and the similarities. Paradoxically, it is these exaggerated distinctions between these characters that create an awareness of some quality that unites them all.
The characters in this play are all remarkably distinct from one another on a individual level, but in a greater sense, they are similar because they all possess a tendency towards excess. For example, in the scene where Madame Ranevsky and Trophimof discuss their involvement with love, Trophimof asserts that he and Anya are "above love," to which Madame Ranevsky responds that she must be "beneath love." This moment is ironic because it emphasizes the differences between these two characters. On the one hand, Trophimof has found a lovely young woman with whom he shares certain chemistry. However, he and Anya are intellectual idealists, and they will part from each other at the end of the play forever, without having taken advantage of any opportunity they might have had together. On the other hand, Madame Ranevsky is fleeing to Russia from her cheating, abusive lover. She, however, is a woman controlled too much by her passions and not enough by her intellect, and at the end of the play she will return to the side of this monster who has so mistreated her. Trophimof and Madame Ranevsky have opposite problems when one considers the details of their situations, but in terms of the end of the play as a whole, they are in the same position: they each had a good opportunity, but by being so much themselves, they have managed to lose it.
Act III also contains the pivotal moment of the play's action: the sale of the cherry orchard, bought by none other than Lopakhin himself. This moment brings together many of the central ideas in the play. In the first place, it is the most beautiful example of indirect action, the technique which Chekhov is famous for, in the entire play. The sale of the cherry orchard takes place offstage, far away, yet its expected fruition completely drives the action of the plot. Moreover, this moment, which occurs offstage, provides the most dramatic of all moments on-stage, teaching us that visual action is superfluous, and indeed, unnecessary, next to the reactions of finely sculpted characters.
This scene is a moving account of the social change occurring in Russia; Lopakhin is now the owner of the estate where his father and grandfather were serfs, and Madame Ranevsky is homeless. This moment is full of the most powerful irony in the entire play, as the roles of the two main characters have been completely reversed from the beginning of their history to this moment. Theirs is the most extreme example of the changes in class which effect each character in the play.
In addition to being the most important moment in the play in this respect, this scene also has the potential to be the most important moment in terms of the development of Lopakhin and Madame Ranevsky as characters. Lopakhin is both triumphant and tactless; Madame Ranevsky is naïve and devastated. This dual aspect of the scene exits in the text, and it can be either emphasized or done away with, depending on the performance of the play. In any interpretation of the play, however, this interpretation of this scene must control the characters' identities from the beginning of a performance, and even still there are endless possibilities. Whether Lopakhin comes off as vindictive or as lovable throughout the play, this speech can be either the moment where the audience most identifies with him and feels his triumph, or most resents him for his lack of tact. By the same token, whether Madame Ranevsky is charmingly innocent or annoyingly naïve throughout the first two acts, at this moment, the audience sees her at her weakest; we may see her as a fool who acted too late or as a poor abused woman, beaten down by misfortune.
These moments of irony and symbolism are the fabric of the entire play, not only Act III. Part of the richness of the play depends on the variety of interpretations it supports. However, in choosing one's own interpretation, the reader should bear in mind that Chekhov was disappointed when his play was performed as a tragedy; the fact that the play may contain various moral lessons should in no way undermine the light-hearted, comic moments which pervade the entire play and are just as important to its substance.